Hardcore Henry (2015) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: R for non-stop bloody brutal violence and mayhem, language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug use
Running Time: 96 min.
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett
Small role: Tim Roth, Cyrus Arnold
Director: Ilya Naishuller
Screenplay: Ilya Naishuller
Review published April 10, 2016
At the beginning of the film, we find the Henry of the title having been all but entirely killed from a brutal attack that sees his eyes, one of his arms, and one of his legs replaced by powerful robotic counterparts from a scientist who tells Henry, who is suffering from severe memory loss, that she is Estelle (Bennett, The Equalizer), his wife. After undergoing the rehabilitative operation, Henry and Estelle find themselves on the run in Moscow from a bunch of Russian gangsters, led by Akan (Kozlovsky, Vampire Academy), a madman with astonishing telekinetic powers that are never explained or even commented upon, who is out to create his own team of cyborgs resembling Henry. Estelle ends up getting kidnapped, Henry finds himself under constant assault by a never-ending array of baddies, and the only person who seems to be on his side is a mysterious man who calls himself Jimmy, who seems to have the uncanny ability to regenerate into a new variation of himself whenever he gets killed (Sharlto Copley (Chappie), in his never-ending quest to see how many dialects he can annoy us hammily performing).
The main gimmick of Hardcore Henry, formerly known as just Hardcore prior to its official theatrical release in the United States, is that it's an action film done entirely in the first person, similar to the first-person video games that are a staple of the modern action games on the PC and home consoles. GoPro cameras mounted on the head off the main protagonist -- a mute hero that one barely gets a glimpse of -- captures much of the footage that we see for the 90+ minutes of run time. It's more of a movie that's admirable for its technical achievements than anything you'd find in its nonsensical story or barely defined character elements, relegating this more as a demo-reel showcase of what first-time feature writer/director Ilya Naishuller, who cut his teeth making first-person music videos for his own band, can do as a visual stylist.
The problem with gimmick flicks come when the main hook is the only hook, and, unfortunately, Hardcore Henry is a bit of a one-trick pony the entire way. There really isn't any particular scene, when taken on its own, that isn't cool to watch for the three to five minutes in which they run, but it's also one that begins to lose flavor after the first instance in which you see the dynamics employed come into play, relegating the rest of the movie as more of the same. It's akin to a rollercoaster, where the first time around is quite exciting, but the amusement park decides it's going to make you ride about three dozen more times through the same course. As such, we rely on plot shifts to try to breath some new life into the context of these first-person sequences, and yet, without any real connection to the main protagonist other than one perplexing flashback involving being bullied as a kid, and the fact that we're seeing the world from his eyes, we have no connection to his plight.
Hardcore Henry is the kind of movie I'd solely recommend to watch for a scene or two if it happens to be streaming on a service where you don't have to pay extra, or to check out while flipping around the channels once it appears on television. As a movie to actually sit and watch from beginning to end, it's a tedious slog with occasional hiccups of something new or notable that emerge that quickly dissipate into the sameness of the redundant, blurry, poorly lit, shaky-cam aesthetic. It's also quite repugnant in its stomach-churning violence, wallowing in the viscera of human carnage throughout, possibly only of interest for those titillated by high levels of gore and blood. Given the opening credits are only a collection of slow-motion shots of point-blank kill shots, throat stabbings and cranial bludgeonings, I personally become instantly desensitized by the pornographic levels of violence, such that it never impressed me at any point afterward how grisly things could get, already having seen and expecting the worst from the get-go.
Like its main protagonist, Hardcore Henry is a vacant-headed entity that replaces any semblance of humanity with technologically advanced, but unfeeling, robotic parts. The result is a fatiguing film that's a highlight reel of scenes that could have been fun and exciting in other movies in which we could follow the storyline and cared at all about the person through whose eyes we are viewing the world, but on its own terms, it's merely a barrage of the same formula done over and over but with different weapons and in different locales. It's not at all as interactive or immersive playing a video game, or even as moderately interesting as rooting on a good friend play one; it's more like watching bunch of video clips recorded from a cell phone pointed at a television screen on which a video game is being played by a complete stranger. It's an unrewarding and soulless experiment that finally will answer the question on why it has never been done before in an action film for more than a scene.
©2016 Vince Leo